RODOLFO HALFFTER: Chamber Music Vol. 2 = Soloists of Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid/Manuel Coves – Naxos

by | Aug 19, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

RODOLFO HALFFTER: Chamber Music Vol. 2 = Giga, Op. 3; Tres piezas breves, Op. 13a ; Dos sonatas de El Escorial, Op. 2; Homenaje a Antonio Machado, Op. 13; Divertimento, Op. 7a; Laberinto, Op. 34; Capricho, Op. 40; Epinicio, Op. 42; Secuencia, Op. 39 – Soloists of the Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid – Francisco José Segovia, piano/ Miguel Ángel Jiménez, guitar/ Beatriz Millán, harp/  Paulo Vieira and Victor Arriola, violin/ Cinta Varea, flute/ Vicente Fernández, oboe/ Nerea Meyer, clarinet/ Francisco Mas, bassoon/ Alexander Trotchinsky, viola/ César Asensi, trumpet/ Rafael Domínguez, cello/ Manuel Coves – Naxos 8.572419, 68:17 ****:

Rodolfo (1900-1987) is the older of the composing Halffter brothers. He is sometimes called the Mexican Halffter to distinguish him from Ernesto, his junior by five years, also called the Portuguese Halffter. In the wake of the Spanish Civil War, Rodolfo, associated with the artistic avant-garde in Spain and opposed to Francisco Franco, fled the country. Ernesto wasn’t in the same spot politically but during the ‘30s chose to live and work in Lisbon, relocating to Madrid later in life. Rodolfo became an artistic fixture in Mexico, composing and working for thirty years at the National Conservatory, where he taught a generation of important Mexican composers.

Ernesto is probably the better known of the brothers, thanks to his early successes and the added cachet of being Manuel de Falla’s favorite pupil. But Rodolfo has the larger and more varied oeuvre, including works in all musical genres. Plus he managed to progress creatively as Ernesto did not. The works on the current disc show a restless musical mind, ready to embrace the going trends of the day but more importantly, to put his own stamp on them.

Both brothers were members of a Madrid collective known as the Grupo de los Ocho (Group of Eight), composers who built on Falla’s vision of an internationalization of the folkloric tradition in Spanish music. The Grupo turned for inspiration to Bartók and other modernist composers, including Schoenberg. However, the earliest pieces on the current program, such as Giga for guitar (1930) and Dos sonatas for piano (1928), show the influence of neoclassicists and take their inspiration from Scarlatti, in the manner of the Italian composer Alfredo Casella. They’re pleasant, fluent works that frankly make no deep impression.

But turn to Homenaje a Antonio Machado for piano (1944), and an added harmonic piquancy enters Halffter’s language. Rather than set Spanish poet Machado’s works to music, Halffter creates a purely instrumental homage, one that is nonetheless colorfully poetic. Even more so the Divertimento for chamber ensemble that Halffter drew from his 1935 ballet Don Lindo de Almería. It’s as tough and rigorous a bit of neoclassicism as Hindemith or Stravinsky was writing in the 1930s and has the added exoticism of Spanish melody and rhythm.    

Halffter kept growing as a composer; like other formerly tonal composers (Stravinsky, Copland, and Ginastera come to mind), Halffter couldn’t avoid the universal pull of serial and aleatory music. According to Tomás Marco’s notes, Liberinto for piano (1972) “is the one [piece] that makes the most in-depth use of aleatory elements.” Its four very different movements all “share the same tone row and all end on F, which is not part of the row.” The result is anything but mechanical; there’s a rhythmic freedom, an impulsivity that speak strongly to Halffter’s Latin roots. Much the same can be said of the other late works, including Epincio for solo flute. Despite the fact that Halffter explores the fairly new idea of multiphonics—producing multiple notes at once through flutter tonguing—a more traditional musical spirit hovers of the work. It reminds me most of Debussy’s weirdly atmospheric Syrinx.

More serial music appears in Secuencia for piano (1977), and yet there is a hunted, atavistic quality about the piece that reminds me of The Rite of Spring, or of Revueltas’s Mexican Rite of Spring—Sensemaya.

The Madrid-based musical forces under conductor Manuel Coves turn in very polished performances that bespeak a close affinity for Halffter’s idiom. Francisco Segovia has most of the heavy lifting to do, in Halffter’s late serial compositions for piano, but impressive solo performances come as well from Victor Arriola and Cinta Varea. And though the recordings were set down in a number of different venues in Madrid, the sonics are pleasing across the board. I guess it’s time to catch up with Volume 1. . .

— Lee Passarella